Stump The Pastor: Do I Have To Go To Church To Be a Christian?
The other day I was in Martins supermarket talking to an acquaintance and that person asked me, “do I have to go to church to be a Christian?”
What a great question… I promised to think about it and post my reply on this blog.
Here is the short and a long of it: “It depends on your definition of the word ‘church’.”
If you understand ‘church’ to be a building with pews in it, then you do not have to go to church. Just like sitting in a garage does not make you a car, sitting in a church building does not make you a Christian.
The truth is that church is not a building. Church is a community of individuals who gather regularly to celebrate the love of God, the friendship of Jesus and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Church is a community that gathers on a regular basis to share their joys and concerns, to celebrate the sacraments (Baptism and the Holy Communion) to lean on each other in difficult times and to be engaged in works of Christian charity, mission and outreach beyond the boundaries of their community.
A person cannot be considered a Christian unless he or she actively belongs to such a community.
I realize that a reasonable retort would be, “but I believe in a personal relationship with God and I am a good person because I support a long list of charities…”
When we read the Gospels and Early Christian Writings of the Holy Scriptures, we discover that the only person who wanted to be a “lone ranger” was Nicodemus (John 3) who came to Jesus “by night.” Although he was earnest in wanting to follow Jesus, he wanted God to accommodate him and his desires for autonomy. His story is in the Gospel of John, Chapter 3. Nicodemus was not willing to give up his habits and creature comfort to become one of the disciples of Jesus.
What I like about Nicodemus is that he did not pretend to be someone who he was not. He said something like “following Jesus is not for me” and moved on with his life.